Doris Perez of Great Lakes Urban has long devoted her life to serving the community. She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, where her parents were both heavily involved in their community. They ran a medical clinic out of a trailer that they were able to move all over the island to bring assistance to many people. Every person that they helped was treated with dignity and love – a value that was very important for their family to uphold, and one that Doris continues to practice in her work today.
In 1979, Doris came to Michigan to study psychology and social work at Spring Arbor University. These four years taught her a lot about social work in America and inspired her to continue working with people. Post-graduation, Doris joined the Luke Society, working in community health development as a facilitator where she trained Haitian immigrants and poor Dominicans to become health promoters. Alongside her father, she helped to coordinate clinics in different areas in the Dominican Republican. During her last 12 years here, she was a director of a child development and child survival program that provided support to over 400 families in the neighborhood. Through this, Doris helped to establish continued educational opportunities, water purification units, and a holistic health clinic that continues to operate in one of the worst slums in Santo Domingo City.
Later, Doris returned to Michigan and finished graduate school at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary where she learned the value of promoting asset-based community development among urban church leaders for them to provide support to their neighborhoods. Eventually, Doris was offered a position as a community connector with Great Lakes Urban and started a team called Godfrey Lee Listeners – a group that meets every month to hear what Doris is learning about the community while getting to know them and understanding their wants and needs.
Doris notes how increasingly diversified the area has become over the past decade. Residents come from a variety of different backgrounds, and Doris has loved getting to know and appreciate their cultures. She also has a strong appreciation for the way that each resident has the potential to add value to their community. Uncovering that potential has been one of Doris’ favorite things to do and she calls this “treasure hunting.” This consists of going out into the community and getting to know and appreciate what every person has to offer. She says, “Every person has a distinctive, beautiful thing to contribute to society.”
Every week, Doris and other residents participate in a walking club, in which they walk around the area and talk with one another. After walking, they meet at someone’s home to cook, share stories, talk about goals and hopes for the future, and uplift each other. They also like to come together and look for ways to help others in the community that are in need. In one instance, there was a woman that was at a low point both emotionally and physically and was unable to care for her garden. Doris and the walking club came along and not only helped her with her garden but also spent time talking with her and showing her support.
By practicing what she believes in, Doris has inspired others to want to connect with their neighbors and volunteer their time in the community. She has found that there are many people that would like to get involved, and they just need someone like her to step in and show them what they can do. Great Lakes Urban has been committed to providing the training and support that the residents of West Michigan need to lead the growth and transformation of their communities.
For the future, Doris hopes that they can continue to improve upon the connection that is developing between residents. She wants this to not only be a place that residents can be proud of, but also a place where neighbors genuinely care and look out for one another. She’s also hoping for more young people to get involved and hopes to get an emphasis on community and neighborhood fellowship in the curriculum of nearby schools.
Doris Perez can teach us all a lot about what it means to be a good neighbor. She is attentive to the needs of her community and listens to what they have to say about their struggles, hopes, and dreams. She approaches everything that she does with love and kindness and has given people a reason to come together and have hope for better lives for themselves and those around them. Her leadership and enthusiasm for having a positive impact is a true inspiration and we can all benefit from following in her footsteps. Big changes don’t have to start with big initiatives; little steps, such as introducing yourself to your neighbor or cooking a meal for someone in need can have a momentous impact that paves the way to a better community for all.
If you live in or near Wyoming, Doris invites you to come to an event to see what they are about first-hand and check out their available workshops and trainings. You can also watch some of the Lunch and Learn events that Great Lakes Urban has hosted to hear more about this work from those that lead it. Reach out to Great Lakes Urban at any time to learn more.